Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1944, Squadron Leader James Brown Warwick D.F.C., the Royal Air Force, was killed when the plane on which he was navigator crashed in the Netherlands.
Squadron Leader Warwick was educated at the Boys’ Model School and then attended the Oranges Civil Service Academy in Belfast. At the age of seventeen, in 1938, he moved to London, joined the Imperial Civil Service and worked in the offices of the Air Ministry. In March of 1941 he joined the R.A.F., and after training was posted to 1661 Conversion Unit and then 49 Squadron, with which he completed two operational tours. His navigating skills were deemed to be excellent on operations to various places in Germany: Berlin, Hamburg, the Ruhr and Peenemunde.
On the day of his death Squadron Leader Warwick and Wing Commander Guy Gibson took off on a mission to bomb the Rheydt and Monchengladbach railway and industrial centres. As Station Navigational Officer of No. 54 Base at Coningsby, Squadron Leader Warwick had been screened off operational duties, and had never flown in a Mosquito before. Both facts of which Wing Commander Gibson was well aware before demanding that Squadron Leader Warwick accompany him, his original choice of navigator being unavailable. Before they took off, a warrant officer tried to give Squadron Leader Warwick some instruction on the aircraft – he later reported, “During my instructions I was more or less thrown out of the aircraft by Gibson and being a warrant officer I did not argue with a bad-tempered wing commander”. Although holding a senior rank, Wing Commander Gibson had no actual authority over any crew.
Over the Netherlands they were seen to have engine trouble just before their aircraft crashed in flames near Steenbergen. They were at first listed as missing, and it was several days before their deaths were confirmed. The people of Steenbergen defied the German soldiers and gave them a funeral with a horse-drawn hearse and a coffin draped with the flag of the Netherlands. The coffin was made by the local carpenter with wood provided by the sugar factory director, and the local coppersmith made a plaque for the lid. Only one coffin was used because all that remained of the bodies, and the plane, were fragments. A Catholic priest and a Protestant minister performed the funeral service together, due to not knowing the religion of either man. The remains of Squadron Leader Warwick and Wing Commander Gibson were buried in the Steenbergen-en-Kruisland Cemetery in Steenburgen. Personal items found at the crash site, including a gold ring and ID tags, were sent to the Hague by one of the villagers, but they were later lost in a bombing raid.
James, from Ligoniel, Belfast, was 23 years old and engaged to be married